Movie Review ~ Threshold (2020)

1

The Facts:  

Synopsis: A sister, claiming to be cursed, persuades her brother to embark on a cross country road trip to break her spell. 

Stars: Madison West, Joey Millin, John Terrell 

Director: Powell Robinson, Patrick Robert Young 

Rated: NR 

Running Length: 78 minutes 

TMMM Score: (2/10) 

Review:  Sometimes the movies with the biggest ideas come in the tiniest of packages so I’ve learned it’s always wise to keep your eye on the indie-est of indies as they pass through your inbox.  After all, you never know if that film you’re writing off because of its no-frills trailer or unproven talent might be the next big thing.  I’m the type of movie fan that likes to hop on board trains gathering steam early on as they chug up a hill rather than when they’re hurtling back down the mountain like a locomotive and that goes double when it comes to horror movies which often need a little more time to get moving.  Even the way directors are making genre offerings are changing, like 2020’s fantastically frightening Host, filmed during the pandemic via Zoom. 

Shooting a movie on an iPhone isn’t anything revolutionary, heck, it’s even played a large part in the advertising for the product over the last several of its release cycles, so the makers of Threshold, out now from the Arrow streaming service and due out soon in a BluRay jam-packed with special features, aren’t exactly reinventing the wheel (reel?) with their approach to making their movie.  Having their two actors improvise the vast majority of the script also is something that’s been tried before to various degrees of success (look only to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project for the pros and cons of the exercise), so what matters most is how it all winds up.  Can you really make an effective no-budget movie using two phones, two actors, a script outline the actors will improvise to fill in the gaps, and a few practical effects thrown in for good measure? 

Unfortunately, directors Powell Robinson and Patrick Robert Young have delivered a dud of a horror film and only a slightly better sibling drama, neither of which inspire much in the way of a recommendation.  Confusing melodrama with tension and trite banter for deeper pathos surrounding a soul in crisis, it’s the longest road trip in recent memory…and I drove across the entirety of South Dakota in one day last month, and not the gorgeous Badlands/National Park part of the state.

Despite troubles in his own life, Leo (Joey Millin) has again come to rescue his troubled sister from a bad situation.  What he doesn’t know is that Virginia (Madison West) has gotten involved with a bad group of people, finding herself cursed by the cult she has cozied up with and connected to a man on the other side of the country.  As long as they share a bond, she experiences everything he does, and the feeling is mutual. Convinced Virginia is simply strung out after another bender, Leo humors her and offers to drive them from one side of the map to the other so he can show her there’s no curse and straighten Virginia out for good. 

It’s during the trip that the siblings catch-up, having not seen each other for years.  His life has changed quite a bit, finally revealing secrets to his sister he kept from her when she was a hardened drug user.  She opens up about her time apart as well.  The carve pumpkins, stay at ratty motels, sing karaoke, do touristy things they see on the side of the road along the way.  The closer they get the stranger Virginia stars to act and it’s only when a Ouija board is found and used at an Airbnb that things taken a turn for the substantially weird.  Saving the best part of the film for literally the final few minutes, I had to rewind the screener twice to catch what was going on.

I guess my biggest complaint about Threshold, and what made it such a disappointing rough sit, was that in outline form there is something to the story of this sibling road trip into fear.  Either making a believer out of the brother or proving the sister to be cracked, so much more mileage could have been gained if there was a script in hand to flesh out key moments.  Letting the actors improvise and ramble on endlessly may have given the film a certain truth but it didn’t make me believe they were siblings any more than I believed they’d met days before they began filming.  Some order to the chaos would have been nice, though chaos implies something happens, which it doesn’t until that aforementioned ending that isn’t exactly conveyed with total clarity. 

While I will give the filmmakers of Threshold points for one rather exceptional scare involving a mask, I take back some because it’s followed up by such an atrociously performed scene that it quickly crushed any butterflies let loose in my stomach.  There’s also an abundance of pretty bad dubbing that took me out of scenes; iPhones may have great cameras, but they also capture a lot of sound.  I’m not shocked they had to re-record much of the dialogue in the car while on the road.  There’s nothing unpleasant about Millin or West in their roles, I would be all for seeing them remake this (or, sigh, I guess in a sequel) with a formalized script that gives their characters more purpose instead of letting them feel around in the dark for a way forward.

On rare occasion these miniscule titles become hidden gems you discover late at night buried deep in your streaming service of choice and you can’t believe your luck. Even at 78 minutes, this isn’t one you’re going to miss missing.     

Movie Review ~ The Bloodhound

1


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A visit to a wealthy and reclusive friend lands a young man in a world of fear and despair.

Stars: Liam Aiken, Joe Adler, Annalise Basso, McNally Sagal, Kimleigh Smith

Director: Patrick Picard

Rated:

Running Length: 72 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  It seems that since we’re in this quarantine/lock-down/social distance phase for the long-haul, the arrival of more curated streaming content has been coming down the pike and that’s good news for those looking for titles that don’t get cycled from one of the Big Three streamers to the next.  There’s a nice selection of British TV/Mysteries from BritBox and Acorn, not to mention the wonderful collection (and quality of display) from the Criterion Channel, and every October I find myself subscribing to Shudder and then keeping my account active for a few months after to catch up on original and hard-to-find horror programming I’ve missed this past year.  You don’t just have to have Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime to keep yourself full of content as the winter months approach.

Entering the arena on a larger scale in 2020 is Arrow, the British boutique specialist label that distributes a treasure trove of intriguing titles in world cinema, cult, art, horror and classic films on Blu-ray and DVD. A number of their releases are region coded which means that what will play in a Blu-ray player in Europe won’t play in the United States and vice versa…which makes importing these titles a no-go unless you have a region-free player, often an expensive investment.  With the arrival of Arrow’s fully curated site, many of these titles are available through their new platform, providing a connection to previously unattainable films, many of which come with the extras produced exclusively by Arrow for these releases.

In addition, Arrow is also getting into the film business themselves and with the first venture they’ve brought forth a quirky, irksome, and eventually tiresome loose adaptation of The House of Usher tantalizingly called The Bloodhound.  If I’m being honest, I watched the entire 72-minute feature and only after did I make the connection the film was taking on Poe with a more morose (is that possible with Poe?) twist.  Everything about the movie is either underplayed by seven notches or delivered without any emotional weight, robbing the viewer the chance to find any frazzled nerve to get a jolt from.  It doesn’t pass the sniff test.

Francis (Liam Aiken) has accepted an invitation from his old friend Jean Paul Luret (Joe Adler) to his family home far from prying eyes.  The Luret Family has a checkered past and all that remain are Jean Paul and his sister Vivian (Annalise Basso), living a strange co-dependent life of the über-rich.  When Francis arrives, he finds Vivian locked away in her room not wanting to see anyone and Jean Paul bearing the markings of a recent confrontation with his sister.  Claiming she has grown increasingly volatile in the past weeks, Jean Paul forbides Francis from trying to see Vivian while he’s staying there.  As the men reconnect through a handful of unique displays of true friendship, despite Jean Paul’s tendency for the dramatic and penchant for bouts of extreme selfishness, the middle-class Francis finds he enjoys benefitting from his wealthy friend that has smiled upon him.

It’s at night when things get dicey.  First, Vivian enters his room and warns him of pending danger.  Then a sleep walking Jean Paul relates a dream he’s had of a man with no face that has found his way into the house, a man lying in wait to destroy them once the inhabitants have achieved a kind of peace.  Crawling on his stomach out of a nearby lake, we’ve already seen him but was this before or after the events that are occurring now?  This man is known as The Bloodhound and we’ll see him throughout the rest of the film, though we’re never quite sure how he’s factoring into the relationship between Jean Paul and Francis until it’s all over…or will we?

Though it has the makings of a taut two-hander, first-time director Patrick Picard favors style over substance and muddled musings over musicality of sharp dialogue.  Either by direction or ability, a number of Aiken’s lines come off drained of feeling, like he’s telling you he’s just ate a piece of bread.  There’s no discernable emotion from one line to the next, rendering them all a gray ball of bland.  The opposite is true for Adler who never met a pensive thought he couldn’t turn into a watery eyed revelation that shakes him to the core.  It’s all just a little much on the part of both actors and, if anything, it’s their awkwardness that prevents you from falling under whatever spell Picard was trying to cast.  The only scene that carried some semblance of weight is a charged one between the two men watching a home movie that suggest there’s a level to their relationship that’s unresolved.

Visually, the movie is sharp as a tack, so it’s too bad the performances don’t have that same focus, not to mention the free-wheeling script.  The Bloodhound dream that Jean Paul relates sends the requisite chill and I leaned forward thinking the film was beginning to get interesting, but Picard sacrifices that intensity of mood for more unbalanced back and forth between Aiken and Adler.  Though it ends with the kind of wicked wallop I craved the other 68 minutes to have, it doesn’t keep The Bloodhound from failing the sniff test.  Still…give Arrow’s new streaming platform a go because their current content is excellent and I’m guessing it will only get more robust.

ARROW is available in the US and Canada on the following Apps/devices: Android (all Android devices), Fire TV (all Amazon Fire TV Sticks, boxes, etc), Roku (all Roku sticks, boxes, devices, etc) and on all web browsers at https://www.arrow-player.com. Arrow Video is offering fans a 30 day free trial of ARROW, and subscriptions are available for $4.99 monthly or $49.99 annually. A UK rollout is planned for 2021.